One-on-One with Furniture Biz Exec Sara Samieian

By Clare Tattersall

Despite significant female participation in the workforce — estimated at 61.5 per cent in 2022 by Statistics Canada, for those aged 15 years and older — women’s presence in senior positions is not proportionate. The most recent data, collected in 2020 and released last May, shows women occupy just over one-fifth of leadership and strategic decision-making roles in both the public and private sectors across a variety of industries in Canada.

When it comes to the furniture industry, Canadian statistics are difficult to come by. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics shows women constitute 46.8 per cent of the overall workforce but hold less than one-third of management positions in the furniture manufacturing sector.

The contrast in furniture stores in the U.S. is even more stark, where women represent just 37.2 per cent of employees, according to Statista. However, mirroring the commitment to gender equality experienced across different industries, these figures have seen an increase of five per cent in the last decade, reports the World Economic Forum. This signifies strides, albeit minor, toward a more balanced corporate landscape.

To mark International Women’s Day, March 8, Moe’s Home Collection’s co-CEO Sara Samieian reflects on progress toward gender parity in the furniture industry and shares ways to support women in the workplace with Home Goods Online. Sara runs the Vancouver-based furniture retailer equally alongside her brother Moe Jr. The duo officially took over the company’s reins seven years ago from their father Moe Sr., who originally founded it in 1986.

Moe’s has become a champion of a diverse workforce, with women comprising 61 per cent of their home office team and holding half of leadership roles — up from 45 per cent in 2017, and a stark contrast to the 30.9 per cent in management in the U.S. furniture sector. The company’s commitment to advancing gender equality can be seen through its hiring practices and promotion-from-within culture. Both Leigh Kalvelage and Maura Dineen serve as examples of how Moe’s empowers women, as the two have risen through the ranks to hold leadership roles as senior sales director of national accounts and creative director, respectively. Moe’s further supports women in the workplace by offering flexible work schedules to help with the challenges of childcare and in many other ways.

HGO: What do you believe are the core reasons behind lower female representation in leadership?
Sara: It’s a systemic issue that we’re actively dismantling at our company. We’re proud we have 50 per cent women representing half of our leadership team.

HGO: How have your personal experiences shaped your approach to leadership and decision-making?
Sara: I’m acutely aware of my position, so I try to advocate for equality and inclusion at work and in the community. We’re investing in actionable change — inclusive hiring, leadership training and flexible policies. We also proudly support charities that align with our ethos, like Big Sisters of B.C., B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation and Chrysalis Society, which helps women heal from addiction, violence and poverty.

HGO: In your opinion and based on your own experience, what could leaders do to promote more women in leadership positions, especially in the furniture industry?
Sara: Leaders should foster an organizational culture that encourages diversity, inclusion and equal opportunities. That’s one of our biggest strengths at Moe’s. Establishing programs that provide women with the guidance and support they need to develop professionally and strive for leadership roles is also very important. Equity doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a given. Balancing work and family life can be a significant challenge for many women, so implementing policies that cater to these needs, such as flexible working hours, parental leave and childcare support, can help retain talented women and aid their rise to leadership positions. Specific to the furniture industry, encouraging and providing platforms for women designers to showcase their work helps bring exposure to diverse voices while also serving to inspire other women considering a career in this industry.

HGO: How can greater representation of women at all levels enhance the furniture industry?
Sara: In my experience, diversity fosters innovation. Different thoughts and perspectives are always beneficial, bringing richer creativity, more empathetic management and robust performance.

HGO: Do you feel things are generally heading in the right direction in terms of a more gender balanced corporate landscape in the furniture industry? How can other people/the furniture industry make a difference?
Sara: While it’s clear some progress has been made concerning gender diversity in the furniture industry, there’s still a considerable way to go. Women still remain underrepresented. Companies within the industry can make a difference by creating fair and inclusive hiring practices, offering equal pay, providing mentorship programs for women and fostering a corporate culture that encourages and supports women in leadership roles.

HGO: What would you tell young women who are thinking about entering the furniture industry?
Sara: For young women considering a career in the furniture industry, I would encourage you to follow your passion. Also, network intensively. Joining professional networks and attending industry events can provide opportunities for you to connect with like-minded individuals, grow professionally and potentially gain exposure to career advancement opportunities. You never know what connection will lead where. Plus, timing is everything. Being at the right place at the right time makes all the difference. Lastly, seek out mentors — both men and women — who can guide you through the industry and aid your professional development. Continually seek opportunities to learn, develop your skills and assert your leadership. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. Believe in your worth, stand up for your rights and never compromise on your values.

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